Last week I did the #BGNPodcast with Cree Summer!

You’ve definitely watched one of these shows, so you’ve definitely heard her voice.

#BGNPodcast In Case You Missed It: Cree Summer

Last week, Black Girl Nerds did a special Thursday night podcast with none other than Cree Summer, from A Different World and maybe every 90s cartoon known to people in my age group. It was an honor to speak with her, she’s well known for her voices but even just her natural voice is soothing. She was really kind, felt connected to the Black Girl Nerds “tribe” and basically invites us to hang out with her in Hawaii at HawaiiCon (if anyone wants to book my airfare, I’d totally do it!).

I grew up on Cree’s voice, including: Atlantis the Lost Empire, Tiny Toon Adventures, Rugrats, and Batman Beyond. A personal favorite? Danny Phantom. Long lost cartoon that I wish I could rewatch? Histeria!. Then later, after college, I finally caught up on all of A Different World, which helps revitalize my desire to write something like that for television. Cree’s career was unconsciously an influence for me without me even knowing she was involved in those projects.

Take a listen to hear her “pirate mouth,” advice to aspiring voice actors, and enticing descriptions of what it’s like at HawaiiCon (take me awayyyy!).

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Gina Prince-Bythewood on Beyond the Lights and her start in television (I get a covert shout out!)

BTL1Shannon M Houston, writer for Paste Magazine, got to interview Love & Basketball writer/director Gina Prince-Bythewood about her latest movie Beyond the Lights. Before the interview, she asked me on Twitter what I would ask Gina. I knew that she wrote for A Different World at the beginning of her career, so I wanted to know if she’d ever return to television. Shannon asked the question and I got a covert shout out and a response! Here’s the quote:

Paste: Your name came up the other night while I was tweeting with Black Girl Nerds during a podcast. One of the co-hosts is a big fan of yours, and she suggested I ask you about transitioning from TV to film, and whether or not you’d consider a return to TV.
Prince-Bythewood: TV was such a great training ground for me. I was very fortunate to have gone right from film school to A Different World. Going to work every day with three black women running the show made it normal for me. Later, I worked with J.J. Abrams, which was amazing. I learned a lot from him. I love TV!My So-Called Life was one of my favorite shows growing up. I love writing it, because I loved watching it. But ultimately, I knew I wanted to get into directing. I wanted that big canvas, so I left after five years.

I will do TV again eventually. I’m actually writing a pilot now, but I’d never attach myself to a show that’s expected to do 22 episodes over five years. I just couldn’t do that. But with TV now, it’s great because you can create shorter seasons, or you can be on the peripheral.Her response makes a lot of sense–she used TV to propel her career into the direction she wanted, but still loves the genre. I wonder what her pilot is about (and how I can write for whatever show it is!) and if we’ll see it on television someday. Something Gina says later in the interview also really resonated with me because it’s something that’s also important to me:

GPB1Prince-Bythewood: When we allow Hollywood to have “black film” as a genre it limits us. They do one film a year with a black cast, and that’s their black film. I want us in every genre—sci-fi, romance, period pieces—that is really my fight.

This is what I want as well. I want black films and TV shows to be seen as more than just the “urban” film/show of the year. Gina mentions that Scandal isn’t a black show–and neither is How to Get Away with Murder–but they have black leads and that often makes people want to dump them into an “urban” category, but that’s not what they are. They are TV shows, political and law shows (however loosely they accurately portray real life haha), with black leads. They don’t have to be shoved into a box that only black people are allowed to unlock. We need more television and film with black stars and we need them in all genres. The Marvel Black Panther film isn’t out until 2017 and Will Smith’s next movie is a con movie (as fun as those are), so when will I get to see a black person leading a science-fiction movie? Or a fantasy film? I need studios to get rid of the idea that making a “black” film or show doesn’t intersect with making a romance or sci-fi/fantasy or period piece. They aren’t mutually exclusive ideas and can still appeal to wide audiences (read: white audiences too) .

I loved this article, love that Gina answered my question, and love that she and I have similar ideas on widening the genres black stars are allowed to lead in. I hope her pilot gets made, but in the meantime, I just hope that she has more films on the way, because I really enjoyed Beyond the Lights and we need more films like it.

For the rest of the article, go here: Gina Prince-Bythewood On Beyond the Lights, and Dismantling the “Black Film” Genre (Paste Magazine).

Link: How To Make It As A Black Sitcom: Be Careful How You Talk About Race

Link: How To Make It As A Black Sitcom: Be Careful How You Talk About Race on Huff Post Black Voices

Several people have sent this to me and I want to share it here. I haven’t been able to dissect it just yet, as it’s a long read, but it looks to be a really, really in depth piece discussing several decades of black sitcoms and comparing their successes and the ways in which they handle race. All of this as black-ish finds its legs and receives a full season pick-up.  There are some great graphs and discussion of a proposed “era” system of black sitcoms from the 50s until now.

 

Check it out.

“A Different World” Cast Still Hangs Out Over 25 Years Later

imageCree Summer (@iamcreesummer) tweeted this photo of herself, Kadeem Hardison, Darryl Bell and Jasmine Guy hanging out. If only this meant everyone’s long felt desires if a reunion were happening. But this is good too! It’s wonderful to know that some casts become friends and keep in touch like this. I love it!

Also check out the Black Girl Nerds Podcast where we talk with Cree about her time on A Different World and her voice acting career! Love her!

Link: 12 Television Writers of Color You Should Know – Flavorwire

12 Television Writers of Color You Should Know – Flavorwire

Hopefully this list grows more and more as the 2014 pilot season arises.

Some of my favorites from this list:

Obviously Shonda Rhimes, creator of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal. I am currently taking an TV writing class and decided to write a Scandal spec script. We’ll see how it goes.

Mindy Kaling – of the Mindy Project, obviously. I didn’t watch The Office, but I watch The Mindy Project and enjoy it’s rom-com style (when it sticks to it)

Aisha Muharrar writes for Parks and Recreation. She wrote the following episodes: “Kaboom” (2.06) “Park Safety” (2.19) “Camping” (3.08) “Born & Raised” (4.03) “Operation Ann” (4.14) “Bus Tour” (4.21)”Ms. Knope Goes to Washington” (5.01) “Ron and Diane” (5.09) and this seasons Recall Vote.

Yvette Lee Bowser wrote for A Different World and created Living Single. Two of my favorite black sitcoms. I need to check up on her other show Half and Half.

Check out the list for more, some of your favorite shows have writers of color you might not have known about. These writers are from Modern Family, The Killing, Hannibal, House, and Orange is the New Black!

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ConStar Watches Castle “A Murder is Forever”

I REALLY enjoyed this week’s episode of Castle. It had a fresh yet classic episode feel and I loved it for that.

This is the second week in a row we’ve seen the supposed killer with the victim. I thought this episode would become a “how-dunit” rather than the typical “who-dunit” but my expectation of thinking they wouldn’t do the same thing two weeks in a row actually turned out to be the real twist. They knew fans would think he really did it in the beginning because they showed us the killer last week, but then they switched it up on us again. I got fooled even more because I thought the victim’s assistant looked suspicious the whole episode, so I lost when it turned out he wasn’t the killer. Oh well!

I think this episode really set a standard the last few since we’ve begun haven’t been able to due to plot or character interactions. Castle and Beckett together in the morning discussing their relationship dilemma of the week before getting the call from the precinct. We’ve had a few of these beginnings last season and I get that they don’t want to give us too many for fear we’ll get tired of them. but I assure them, we won’t! But I appreciate them trying to find new and fresh ways to have Caskett together in the morning (like the facetime call from episode 3).

Castle went in with the lion bit.  “Linus is part of my identity. You don’t want t strip me of my identity do you?” He’s such a drama queen and I love how apparent it is now that he is with Beckett. And she knows just how to shut that behavior down.

I think it’s amusing that the suspect was a “fixer” ala Olivia Pope and Ray Donovan, since Scandal airs on ABC as well. I guess they were just going with the trend.

OMG The CEO Ryan and Esposito interview is Dominic Hoffman, who played Julian, Whitley’s boyfriend on A Different World (sorry, everything for me recently goes back to that show). I almost didn’t recognize him with his wavy salt and pepper hair, but I placed the voice after a few minutes.

“She’s oceans 11, minus 10. She’s oceans 1.” “Or maybe she’s oceans none.”

When Castle was insistent on figuring out the story of the diamond, Kate’s look when he starts talking was so love eyeballs. She loves when he brings the story to the case.

Loved Gates’ “Six zero? Like, with another 6 zeros after that?!”

I could already tell, when the boys were driving back with the diamond, that it wasnt making it back to the precinct… It did, surprisingly, which is a double twist because I was expecting a twist and then didn’t get one lol. A theme of the episode for me, I guess. But it’s crash was the prefect mid show act out. Love the (Dark Knight, does it precede it?) reference with the clowns.

“Looks like the fixer was in a bit of a fix”

I love how the show gets away with these super corny lines just by giving them to Castle and having the others react to how ridiculous they are. Because it is definitely in his character to say and love corny jokes.

I loved the ending. Caskett making the space theirs (even though she has inexplicably not moved in yet), the Hamptons reference, the hug, and the lion roaring iphone app bit (which is amazingly classic Castle–both character and show). Perfect ending to a pretty perfect episode.

Jasmine Guy and Lyndie Greenwood share some fierce eyebrows!

(While you’re here, check out my other Sleepy Hollow posts from last season)

Can Jasmine Guy please play the Mills’ mom* auntie on Sleepy Hollow? (The mother is “dead,” but on this type of show, that’s easily undone.) There’s a fierceness in the eyes and eyebrows that are similar between Jasmine and Lyndie! As far as I know, the two aren’t at all related.

The popularity of this post skyrockets whenever Jenny is on screen! There are usually a bunch of google searches for the two actresses’ names together. Glad I’m not the only one who shares this idea!

*Aunjanue Ellis has been cast as Mama Mills, but there’s still auntie or ancestor or evil cousin…

**Aunjanue Ellis has the eyebrows for it. I approve.

Lyndie Greenwood:
Jasmine Guy:

Another Like My Lover (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The similarity is definitely there!

Why Are Black Sitcoms Less Available to Us?: Black Sitcom DVD/Streaming Distribution Disparity

Black Sitcoms Distribution Article Cover

In this digital age of streaming and DVD and Blu-ray, its seems we can watch anything we want, on any device we want, any time we want. Despite the number of networks and outlets available, there are what feels like the fewest black sitcoms on today. Compared to the heyday of the 80s and 90s, the lack of black sitcoms is especially obvious when you consider there is not one on network television. So you’d think we’d be able to go back to those great 80s and 90s TV shows to fill the void of black faces on our television screens. And yes, there are plenty of shows in syndication thanks to BET and TV One and other minority niche networks. But, as I said, in this digital age, you’d think we could watch whatever we want, whenever we want. This is not the case.

When I fell in love with A Different World this summer, I immediately went searching for it on the internet. I found it: terrible quality, 3-parts per episode YouTube videos. Ok. What about on DVD? Only season 1. Netflix? Nope. Hulu? Hasn’t even heard of the show. I currently have 30 episodes stored on my DVR thanks to TV One syndication. Then I thought of other popular black sitcoms and decided to do some research.

Shows like The Cosby Show, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and Family Matters had major audiences. Diverse audiences even; these shows aired during some of the most popular ratings time slots on TV: The NBC Thursday Must-See-TV block and the ABC TGIF block. The first two shows have full series on DVD, but Family Matters remains at only 3 seasons of its total 9 on DVD and none on any of the major streaming sites. Martin and Girlfriends also have all their episodes on DVD, but again, no streaming. Other shows from these eras and time slots, some with lesser ratings or critical acclaim are available but not black shows.

Check out this chart I made, featuring about 48 black sitcoms spanning from the ’60s to the ’00s (only 1 currently running sitcom is on the list)(It’s a bit ridiculous that it only took me a couple of hours to compile this list. It should be a longer list).

Black Sitcom DVD Release/Streaming Chart

Black Sitcom Streaming Availability Chart

Preview of the chart. Click through for the full and most updated version.

Only a quarter of the series on this list have full DVD releases. Only 3 are available on Netflix. Only 5 are available on Hulu. Some can be seen on the WB website or other network/studio pages (not listed on the chart), but I’ve watched shows on the WB website before, it’s not a pleasant experience (perhaps they’ve made some changes).

Why are our shows not available to us? Why must we hunt through DVD bins and “Save Until I Delete” on our DVRs or suffer through terrible quality YouTube versions (missing episodes or muted scenes because of song copyrights)? Why did so many Wikipedia pages say “Season 1 was released on DVD, but future seasons haven’t been made available due to poor season 1 sales”? Are people really not interested? Or were those cop-outs for those companies (more often than not, these shows were distributed by Warner Brothers)? I know that in the case of A Different World, season 1 differs greatly from the other 5 seasons, so of course DVD sales were low. The fans were waiting for season 2-6 to come out. What about The Jamie Foxx Show or Living Single or The Bernie Mac Show? Who is preventing these shows from being available to the (African-) American people?

I put African in parentheses above because here’s the thing: if shows featuring black people aren’t made available to everyone–not just black people–then how will a wider audience of people come into contact with black shows? If they were available as easily as [insert random show that people rarely watch or talk about but is streaming], we could get more than just black people watching these shows. We could expand the typical audience of these shows to include other races and the next generation. And in doing that, we could inspire writers and producers and networks to give more black written/black-led TV shows a shot (especially on network television). Then, more people would have exposure to great television programs and then realize, oh right, the cast was all black.

I don’t know what the solution is. Petition letters for shows like A Different World and Living Single have gone around, but they don’t seem to do much good. Hopefully, Netflix and Hulu will reach out to the black audience. For goodness sake, in their “Categories” section, Hulu has a Spanish Sitcom section while Netflix has a Korean TV Shows section. Why is there no “Black Sitcom” section, why are those shows not available? Maybe we need to create a streaming site that can get the rights to black TV shows; but there are already so many ways in which black television is being propelled backward (maybe you feel this way about Tyler Perry shows, maybe you don’t, but you definitely can’t ignore the complete lack of any black sitcoms on network television–and only three black led dramas, two which premiere this season)–we don’t need to add segregation to the list.

Let your favorite streaming service know that Black Sitcoms are worthy of being viewed. Make them talk to distributors to give them the rights. And support syndication reruns. Somewhere, I’m hoping something will change.

Are there any black sitcoms I left off the list? Any that have DVD/streaming availability that I neglected to mention? How do you think we can get better access to black television sitcoms?

*CORRECTION* I miscalculated on the chart: there are 12 shows with full DVD releases. Not much better. It has been corrected.

Related post: https://constarstudiestv.wordpress.com/2013/07/24/constar-studies-90s-black-sit-coms/

ConStar Studies 90s Black Sit-Coms

I just finished watching A Different World. Despite being such a huge fan of The Cosby Show, I’d never watched the spin-off. I finally have made my way through most of the episodes (thanks to YouTube, since only season 1 is on DVD right now). And I loved it. It was well-written, fun, funny, had great character development, and tackled the issues of the day without losing the above. All in all, it was just very real

It wasn’t perfect; the season 1 to 2 cast/production staff shake-ups in cast were definitely a game changer, some other characters went in and out, Jaleesa married Col Taylor (which I was not a fan of), and then completely disappeared, and there are a few really weird/corny dream sequence, cast-talent show episodes that I kind of skipped through. Granted, I spent most of my marathon pining for Whitley/Dwayne scenes anyway, but even that was handled pretty well for a will-they/won’t-they arc. The lead up to their involvement wasn’t rushed or forced (unlike most of Ron’s cast love interests)–it helps that even when Dwayne was supposed to be hung up over Denise in season 1 and they were on a date, he still had globs of chemistry with date-crasher Whitley–and when they got to together, they actually stayed together for several episodes, across a season finale, before the inevitable split up. And when they got back together, they were together for good (one break up is fantastic numbers for a WT/WntT. A good amount of tugging at our hearts (though I’m sure over 6 real-time years it may not have felt good) without overdoing it like some shows (the Ross/Rachel effect I guess).

A Different World had a diverse African-American cast (meaning diverse amongst the black community; there isn’t just the token, cool, black best friend), good writing, and actors with great chemistry with one another. And it raised issues of black history, racism (on both sides of the divide as well as within the black community), classism, war, politics, date rape, AIDS, and other issues that were (and unfortunately still are) plaguing the black community. There’s nothing else like it. Which leads me to wonder, where are the shows like this today?

We had a really good run of quality, family friendly, uplifting black television in the early 90s. The Cosby Show, A Different World, Family Matters, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. I could be missing some, but these 4 are the pinnacle. Of course there was also Living Single, Martin, The Wayans Brothers, The Jamie Foxx Show, and a few other shows towards the late 90s, but these shows were more silly, general sit-coms. They were escapist and pure fun. That’s not bad, it’s just not my point. [I’ll add ABC’s My Wife and Kids to this list, though it started in 2001, as somewhere between the classic sitcom nature of a show like Martin and the life-lessons of The Cosby Show. It did try to have life lessons but really did err on the side of silly a lot.] They also aired on UPN and The WB, which is again, not bad, but the other 4 aired on 2 of the 3 major networks of the time, in a day when FOX/UPN/WB were just starting out and there weren’t cable networks dedicated to black television

And this is part my problem, my concern, really. Those shows (which were a part of NBC’s juggernaut Must-See-TV line up and ABC’s super-popular TGIF block) were hits of their day and were reached by millions of audience of all colors. Now, we have several channels dedicated to black television (both old and new, reality and scripted) and I can’t say that any one has created a show like the 4 I’ve been mentioning. And there aren’t any black sitcoms on network (the big four) television at all right now (if I am missing one, please inform me)(and someone tell me what’s on my9 and CW, they’ve been focusing on white teenage supernatural shows, no?). We have all this television space (and, increasingly, YouTube and Netflix and Hulu space) and still no one has created shows like these. Well-written, focusing on educated black people who want to know their history and raise the lowest common denominator of entertainment? That’s seems absurd. I had a Facebook status with the question of why shows like ADW don’t exist today, and someone said because I hadn’t written it yet, and while I appreciate the challenge and hope to someday do so, where are all the other people like me who miss these shows and want people to watch more than Love and Hip Hop (which I am disappointed to see is not at all like the movie Brown Sugar)?

Elizabeth Meriwether’s (New Girl) tweeted this the other day and I think the answer is related to my question.

Image

Some of the responses were that we started being honest with ourselves and that 9/11 happened. These things could be true. I also read somewhere (I can’t cite the source right now, sorry) that especially in this post-9/11 world, we went from utopian fiction and ideas of the future to dystopias and world collapse. Probably why zombies are at an all-time high of popularity right now. These things are probably related to why we don’t have uplifting black sitcoms on right now.

Maybe I’m just a family friendly (but not corny) kind of girl. But shows like Cosby, ADW, Fresh Prince, and Family Matters showed the world and young kids (both of other races and blacks ourselves) that we are more than just the stereotype. And while a lot of people say that the things those shows presented aren’t reality, if we don’t see them exist anywhere, how can we make them a reality? ADW made kids not only want to go to college, but Historically Black Colleges. Cosby showed kids that we could be families of doctors and lawyers or even get our PhD in Education while being an actor/comedian. We can grow up in Philadelphia and become the fresh prince and then the number one movie star in the world (as a black lead in several sci-fi films at that, something no other black actor or actress has pulled off (well, Sam Jackson and Zoe Saldana too. My interest in black sci-fi is another blog post). Black kids are nerds too (though Urkel style has been adapted by hipsters now) and we can accept that and be happy with it. Despite them not being reality, they can lead us to a new reality. This is why we need shows like these on today. The other stuff isn’t bad (a lot of the reality is bad, #scriptedtelevisionforlife) but it doesn’t challenge us or teach us anything. These shows did. And I want more like it.

But I suppose, as they say (paraphrasing): The [television show] you want to [watch] doesn’t exist? Create it.

Related post: Why Are Black Sitcoms Less Available to Us?